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Royal Mail sell-off: Thatcherism lives on

Before postal workers even have a chance to strike over the plan.

New Statesman
Photograph: Getty Images

 

Thatcherism lives on well into the new millennium it seems with the news that the government will rush the sale of Royal Mail before postal workers have a chance to strike over the plan.

Nothing could be more polarising this week following the now seemingly heroic Labour bravely, although perhaps unwisely throwing down the gauntlet to the energy companies while the Con-Dems attempt to royally screw the nation out of its postal service.

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) is balloting 100,000 of its members on a nationwide strike over the privatisation, as well as on changes to salary and pensions.

Voting in the strike ballot will close on 16 October while Royal Mail should be privatised by 15 October. The earliest a strike could take place is 23 October, making the whole thing seem a little bit pointless.

The depressingly low value of the post office has been placed between £2.6bn and £3.3bn after the government announced it will beginning selling shares between 260p and 330p each.

Bear in mind the businesses profits to the 52 weeks to the end of March jumped to £403m, up from £152m for the previous year on the back of its growing parcel delivery service, while, admittedly, the letter industry dies a long, torturous death trapped under an ever growing pile of junk mail.  

Despite its problems, many may struggle to see the upside of such a sale considering we are now seeing the long term affects of the utilities sell off. So what are the, hypothetical, pros?

Business secretary Vince Cable has said that the Royal Mail needs the capital this IPO will bring in order to modernise. In a kind of confused agreement chief executive at Royal Mail Moya Greene said that the company would "not change" while being better able to compete in a competitive market. That’s a thinker.

Vince and Moya are right in some respects; Royal Mail operates in an increasingly competitive market and, unlike the energy companies and the banks, the services on offer are not seen as one indistinguishable gelatinous blob, all giving the exact same service at the same price but with a different, just as ugly, face.

It’s not just a question of picking a provider and sticking with them until you get so pissed off you switch to a different one where the cycle begins all over again (in a way painfully reminiscent of out system of government). Royal Mail has to compete to be the first choice everyday of private people and businesses when there seems to be more UPS and FedEx trucks on the road than ever.

Perhaps privatisation is the way forward this time. If previous governments hadn’t done such a lamentable job the last few times, allowing big business overseas to take us all to the cleaners, maybe people would be able to see beyond the failures of the past to entertain the idea that this time it might work.

But the fear of stagnation, greedy profiteering, shady board room deals are not going to be far from peoples minds and pulling a fast one on the CWU in the back is unlikely to be seen as a fair but shrewd business tactic.

With the bull rush move of not allowing Royal Mail staff (who will be expected to carry a 10 per cent share of the company in less than a month) to have their say and, if they so choose to, call a strike, it seems the biggest government sell off since the early 90s is off to a bad start.

But hey, something’s got to pay for that sinking ship called HS2, right?